The lag time from when people are infected with HIV and when they are diagnosed is getting shorter, but many still go years without knowing their status, potentially infecting others, according to a new study, and more than half live in the South.
In their monthly Vital Signs report out Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the median time between infection and diagnosis with HIV was three years in 2014, about seven months shorter than in 2011.
About 85 percent of the 1.1 million people in the U.S. with HIV know they have it but that other 15 percent represents more than 162,000 people, according to the report.
A little over 50 percent of those who do not know they are infected live in Southern states, according to the CDC. An estimated 40 percent of new HIV cases, just under 40,000 people a year, stem from those who do not know they have it, it was reported.
“This report suggests that far too many people live with HIV for far too long before receiving a diagnosis,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, the director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention for CDC. Among different groups, heterosexual men at higher risk went the longest between infection and diagnosis, a median of nearly five years, and Asians had nearly twice the delay of whites at 4.2 years. Among those who reported not being tested in the past year, about two-thirds had seen a health care provider during that time, according to the report.
An emphasis on testing and education for those at higher risk has reduced that new infection rate by 18 percent over the past decade, Mermin said. In fact, the state of Georgia saw a 25 percent decrease in new HIV cases from 2008 to 2014, he said. Still, the state is disproportionately affected by HIV, Mermin said.
If someone is tested and diagnosed, effective treatment can begin, improving lives and reducing the risk of transmission, said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the CDC and a former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“We know that an HIV test opens doors to care, treatment and prevention,” she said. “Once diagnosed, HIV can be treated so that people who have HIV can live long, healthy lives. Treating HIV is also a powerful tool for preventing the sexual transmission of HIV.”
Antiretroviral treatment, often in the form of a pill once a day, can drive down the amount of virus in the body to undetectable levels and a study found that among thousands of couples where one partner was infected but with a very low viral load there were no instances of sexual transmission, Mermin said. That should spur even greater efforts at testing and treatment, Fitzgerald said.
“This is an epidemic we can stop so let’s pledge to work together and end it forever,” she said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or email@example.com.